Do you remember Shields and Yarnell?

The 1970s were a magical time when mimes could get their own television show.

Image: AP Photo / Dave Pickoff

Is there a more unfairly maligned entertainer than the mime? The silent performers are often the butt of jokes, but the physical art has given the pop world dance moves such as the Moonwalk, popping and locking, and the robot. Marcel Marceau is the mime who first comes to mind, as does his image of white faces and black leotards. Yet not all mimes are so easy to stereotype, especially the American duo Shields and Yarnell.

Marceau discoverd a young Robert Shields performing outside the Hollywood Wax Museum. The teenager was invited to study in France. After a short stint in mime school, Shields felt the need to discover his own muse and left for San Francisco, where he met Lorene Yarnell. She was a dancer, and had once appeared on several episodes of Shindig!

In 1972, the two were married. In that sweet spot between Star Trek and Star Wars, Shields and Yarnell tapped into sci-fi and Kraftwerk and developed robotic characters called the Clinkers. The body movement was inspired by robotics, and Shields is credited as developing "the Robot," the favorite dance move of every child (and others more rhythmically challenged).



The main reason we write about them, however, is that the twosome become television celebrities, primarily as regulars on The Sonny and Cher Show, but also on hundreds of episodes of series from The Muppets to The Tonight Show. In 1977, Shields and Yarnell became its own variety show on CBS. The Clinkers were heavily featured, in a series of short sitcom parodies. 

Shields and Yarnell lasted just a season, going head-to-head with The Captain and Tennille and Little House on the Prairie, yet it did garner an Emmy nomination.


Yarnell on Wonder Woman


During the series' brief run, Yarnell appeared on Wonder Woman, playing the villain Formicida, a woman who can harness the power of ants (eat your heart out, Paul Rudd). Many might also remember her work in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs, where she played the C-3PO parody Dot Matrix, modeled after and voiced by Joan Rivers. 

The mimes were such a hit they appeared on the cover of the children's pop culture magazine Dynamite.


Dynamite issue No. 48

Elements of mime performance are still seen today in music videos, Super Bowl halftime shows and slapstick comedies. Yet it's been a good four decades since dedicated mimes had star power to grace the newsstand. 

According to IMDB, there is a documentary in the works about Shields, They Shoot Mimes, Don't They? At least in the 1970s, they shot them on film.

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